CD Review: Expressions of Love
Jan Wheaton assembled a sweeping set of songs, great songs representing her love for jazz and the impulse driving her interpretation of them. The fifteen tracks performed on her new recording, Expressions of Love, form a much-needed history lesson on the "classics" from the jazz-singer/jazz-duo catalog. Of course, "Stormy Weather" appears, and of course, "Almost Like Being in Love," but Wheaton knows a good song can be personalized no matter what the genre, so we see "Crazy," "Always on My Mind" and "I Canít Make You Love Me" as well. Expressions of Love explores ballads, jazz-swing, boogie-woogie and lounge-country on an energizing CD with lots of refreshing hits and few misses.
Wheatonís musical counterpart, pianist Matan Rubinstein, knows the terrain. In a setting as intimate and revealing as a piano duo, the inevitable blend, the emergence of style and the presentation of mood hinge on his skill as performer and interpreter. Particular songs stand out because of these interactions. "Thatís All," made most famous by Nat King Cole, is wonderfully simple, quiet an tender. On "Stormy Weather, " Rubinstein plays the most tastefully, with just a bit of weary sass (just as the song orders). Wheaton as well seems to really relax and leans on her deep, marvelous low vocal register, for good reason. Itís hard to get sick of this song, although everyone records and performs it. Wheaton and Rubinstein demonstrate that a good song may be able to hold its own, but its true power comes from drawing out the greatness of the performers. Itís a good partnership all around.
Wheaton and Rubinstein could have made a purely jazz or lounge-sounding recording, and we would have been happy enough (listen to "I Thought About You" and "Dearly Beloved"). But again, this CD feels like Wheatonís personal "expression of love" to songs, singing, artistry, expression, and real life and its wooly history. Enter Willie Nelson! "Crazy!" We love this song, yes? How often does one get to begin a tale with "Iím crazy"?! Anyway, Rubinstein gently swings the rhythm, nudging the blues into the room, where Wheaton invites them to have a seat and listen for a bit. Itís wonderful. Rubinsteinís solo seems a bit overdone (he can be very elaborate and busy player at times), but they end the song strongly, declaring on piano and with voice "Iím crazy for loviní you. "Good stuff.
Both Nelson and Elvis hit big with "Always On My Mind," and it remains a wonderful American standard, a straightforward song of pain and regret. The duo adds a slight lounge or jazz twist to vocal lines and accompaniment and makes it fresh and charming. On "I Canít Make You Love Me, " Wheaton reinforces Bonnie Raittís sadness and solitude. Expressions of Love contains numerous chances to relive and refresh our own relationships with these songs thank to the efforts of Wheaton and Rubinstein.